"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

[Third Week 1/2] What Hope IS And IS NOT

A Coast Guard member carries a baby placed in a tub
during a rescue operation on November 13, 2020,
after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses
in the Cagayan Valley region in the Philippines.
Photo: Philippine Coast Guard via Reuters
HE HAS SENT ME TO BRING GLAD TIDINGS TO THE POOR, TO HEAL THE BROKENHEARTED, TO PROCLAIM LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES AND RELEASE TO THE PRISONERS, TO ANNOUNCE A YEAR OF FAVOR FROM THE LORD AND A DAY OF VINDICATION BY OUR GOD. IS 61:1-2a

Point Of Departure: Let's talk about hope in terms of what it is NOT in three nuances.

What Hope IS And IS NOT

1. Hope is NOT optimism. Optimism relies on what the world alone could give. It is based on human efforts to build one's security; it is self-centered and lonely. Its foundation is mere 'sand' rather than 'rock.' When the storm comes it could easily be washed away. One does not have to believe in God to become an optimist. Pope Francis said "one should not confuse optimism with hope. Optimism is a psychological attitude toward life. Hope goes further than that... God is involved."

Capstone as 'HOPESTONE'

We can use the analogy of a bricklayer in the process of building an arch. As he lays the stones, piece by piece, he looks to the capstone or the "crown" that will be put at the topmost part of the structure. We can call this HOPESTONE. It is 'already there' which is the source of direction and meaning to continue the building process. However, there is this unavoidable stage in the journey, e.g., the 'not yet', which corresponds to all the moments as if our petitions had fallen on deaf ears. I liken this stage to Richard Rohr's 'falling upward'. But it is not as if we are the only ones waiting for God to answer, He too is waiting for us. Pope Francis says, "be careful. It does not pay to be clever—to continually postpone a serious evaluation of one’s own life, taking advantage of the Lord’s patience. He is patient. He waits for us, He is always ready to give us grace... Let us take advantage of the present moment! This 'yes' is the Christian sense of seizing the day. Not to enjoy life in each passing moment—no, this is the worldly sense. But to seize today, to say 'no' to evil and 'yes' to God... to face our own reality... that we have not loved God and neighbour as we should have" (Homily of Pope Francis, December 8, 2020). We humans can live even without answers, but not without meaning and direction.


How do we move beyond optimism? German theologian Jürgen Moltmann calls it adventus—the coming of the gift that is totally new and positive. It cannot be forced through human efforts alone. To make certain the optimist's future—called futurum—you only need discipline, consistency, hard work, accuracy of plan and execution. But all these are like structures built on 'sand'. The divine and meaningful life cannot stand. Advent, as adventus, and unlike the optimist's futurum, calls us to empty our cup or conditionings we are ensconced in for the coming of the gift. Hence, we beg for the grace to leave behind all assurances resting on ourselves. It must come from outside of us which, given our situation, we could only expect to come from God to whom we owe everything. Optimism is never enough to make us face our present lot with full dignity. Gaudete Sunday is a hopeful Sunday. If the weeks of Advent season were to form an arch, third Sunday is the HOPESTONE. The suffering around us may prevent us to resonate with the meaning of that Latin, which means 'rejoice' but it is important that we are able to live one day at a time with dignity. Simply on the basis of that hope we are already saved. We already taste of the first fruits of God's mercy. Besides, hope enables us to look beyond our life on earth and look forward to the full harvest. And "If these are the first fruits, what will the full harvest be?" (St. Basil The Great).

2. Hope does NOT mean no more wounds or scars. There will always be a temptation to reject pain and suffering just to feel optimistic about one's lot. Some even suggest to erase forever the year 2020. We cannot avoid suffering and the inconveniences of the pandemic. It is worldly to do that. Rejecting or denying pain might just lead to mediocrity or slumber which could even make us deny the "cure" that we badly need for healing. Hope is acceptance rather than avoidance. My image of this is the physically and emotionally scarred shepherd who gets injured so often while tending his sheep. That includes one's own sheep—the self. But his wounds turn into permanent scars which are signs of healing and transformation. So often in the gospels Jesus asks us to be on guard always from and to be watchful. Definitely it is not from getting wounded per se. What is Jesus referring to here? Pope Francis talks about conversion that "involves sorrow for sins committed, the desire to be free from them, the intention to exclude them from one’s own life forever... a worldly mentality, excessive esteem for comforts, excessive esteem for pleasure, for well-being, for wealth" (Homily of Pope Francis, December 6, 2020).

The optimist's desires are not necessarily wrong but they need conversion. St. Augustine in a letter to the pious “Lady Proba” says, “Looking to this, you do well to regard the evils of this world as easy to bear because of the hope of the world to come. For thus, by being rightly used, these evils become a blessing, because, while they do not increase our desires for this world, they exercise our patience; as to which the apostle says, We know that all things work together for good to them that love God: all things, he says—not only, therefore, those which are desired because pleasant, but also those which are shunned because painful; since we receive the former without being carried away by them, and bear the latter without being crushed by them, and in all give thanks” (Letter 131). We might think St. Augustine is being insensitive to our present lot. But Jesus would say the same thing. In fact, he did not just say it, he went through it himself. In the words of the mystic Lady Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-1416), “Our wounds are our glory.”

Such is the paradoxical nature of an illness or a pandemic, it converts us and heals us leaving behind scars. The pandemic is a global illness that is not only viral or ecological, it is also greatly social and spiritual. That is why the "cure" must also be more than just anti-viral but conversion and change of heart—metanoia. Now more than ever we are less and less worldly and more and more human. Thanks to the daily metanoia that has been taking place within us throughout the whole year 2020. Scars from the pandemic will remain just as the scars from the wounds of Jesus remain.

3. Hope is NOT conviction. A firm conviction may masquerade as a converted optimism but it still is NOT hope. Something is greater than conviction, i.e., certitude—the ground of every conviction. Benedict XVI writes, "Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a 'proof' of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a 'not yet'. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future" (Spe Salvi 7).

The whole section 7 of Spe Salvi (see text below) reaffirms the trustworthiness of this 'proof'. Not all types of certitude are to be sought though. There is a deceptive kind of proof that is subject for discernment, according to Spe Salvi. Benedict XVI calls attention to the high expectation put on science. He affirms that "good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough." "Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it" (Spe Salvi 25). I came across the case of a black man who was shot dead while eating ice cream inside his own apartment. The police officer, by mistake, thought the man burglarized inside her apartment until she found out it was not her unit. Upon realizing that she parked on a different floor of the building, it was already too late. After the reading of the guilty verdict for the murder case, the brother of the victim openly forgave the offender and hugged her while inside the courtroom (See Video below). This is hope personified—the kind of hope that the world alone cannot give but only Christ can with certitude. This kind of "substantial hope" demands of us something, e.g., watchfulness and closeness to God to receive it. We are often remiss just like the apostles of old who kept on missing the point about who Jesus really was. "There is one standing among you whom you do not know," says John the Baptist. He gives anew this address to all of us who continuously fail to accept Jesus as the Father's free gift to us. We look for other lesser gifts because we overlook the gift of hope that the Father is giving us through the gift of His Son.



Grace To Beg For: Hope means "In you alone, O God, do I have my continued existence, and for that reason I leave behind all assurances resting on myself." Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Points To Consider:

1. CELEBRATE Gaudete Sunday: I suggest that you ritualize this day following a builder's rite called topping-off day when the last or most important piece, a.k.a. capstone, of the building is put. Designate a capstone to serve as your HOPESTONE in a corner of your house. Put the relics, e.g., a crucifix, photos, a recent newspaper, et. al., to serve as relics. Each time the members of the house see this HOPESTONE or if someone moves it, the person will see the relics deposited in there. What would you like to be reminded of when you see a HOPESTONE? Follow your heart in choosing what to put there. This is your Topping-Off-Day. You may look at this outbreak as having led you to it. Look at the bright side of things and thank God in prayer.

2. HOPE-TESTING: Are you HOPEFUL or HOPELESS? FIRST TEST: Check first whether what you have is hope or optimism. SECOND TEST: If it is hope then ask yourself, Am I avoiding or accepting pain? THIRD TEST: If you are more accepting of pain, what or who is the "substance" of your hope? Will that one be enough?

The recurring operative word in the gospel today is the word NOT. St. John the Baptist knows deep down in his heart, first, who he is and who he is not; second, who he is or is not in relation to Jesus; and third, who or what is enough or is never or not at all enough in his life. Here is a song "Never Enough" from the musical The Greatest Showman which could be used to evoke within our hearts our answer to the same questions.

The Greatest Showman: "Never Enough"-Loren Allred/Kelly Clarkson
Piano Cover by Boyce Avenue


3. Proceed to the †Lectio Divina link at the bottom for the option to pray over the gospel reading for the day.

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Additional Readings:

ENCYCLICAL LETTER
SPE SALVI
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
BENEDICT XVI
TO THE BISHOPS
PRIESTS AND DEACONS
MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS
AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL
ON CHRISTIAN HOPE
NOVEMBER 30, 2007

'Faith Is Hope'

7. We must return once more to the New Testament. In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”. For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia. The Latin translation of the text produced at the time of the early Church therefore reads: Est autem fides sperandarum substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium—faith is the “substance” of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen. Saint Thomas Aquinas, using the terminology of the philosophical tradition to which he belonged, explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see. The concept of “substance” is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say “in embryo”—and thus according to the “substance”—there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence. To Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance”, in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject. In the twentieth century this interpretation became prevalent—at least in Germany—in Catholic exegesis too, so that the ecumenical translation into German of the New Testament, approved by the Bishops, reads as follows: Glaube aber ist: Feststehen in dem, was man erhofft, Überzeugtsein von dem, was man nicht sieht (faith is: standing firm in what one hopes, being convinced of what one does not see). This in itself is not incorrect, but it is not the meaning of the text, because the Greek term used έλεγχος (elenchos) does not have the subjective sense of “conviction” but the objective sense of “proof.” Rightly, therefore, recent Protestant exegesis has arrived at a different interpretation: “Yet there can be no question but that this classical Protestant understanding is untenable.” Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.

Comments

  1. Thank you Fr. Jom for your in-depth sharing of HOPE...God bless you!

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    1. Thank you! May you have a hope-filled Gaudete week ahead! God bless us!

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  2. Concrete experiences of pain moved me to hope that God does not abandon His people. I still feel blessed because the more I feel in pain, the more I hope that God is healing my wounds. With my reality this time, Jesus' message of hope becomes flesh.
    Thank you Fr. Jom... 🙏🙏

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    Replies
    1. The world is in pain and so does God these days. The deepest blessing could come from a realization of pain as sacrifice and which enters healing process. And when this happens the 'substance' of our hope is truly felt as flesh like in the very flesh of our Lord. Thanks Sr. Line for your testimony. You are being blessed by the Lord!

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